Tag Archives: technology

Cell Phones, a New Form of Birth Control?

In the informative Coursera MOOC on social marketing that I’m presently taking, a number of stats were thrown at us. My favorite: “More people own a mobile device than a toothbrush.”

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I’m not going to accept this kind of statement at face value (see previous blog, Or Would You Rather Be a Fish?). So I had to dig deeper to find out if it’s true.

60 Second Marketer Nicole Hall traced the origins and accuracy of this statistic in 2011. She looked at statistics on subscriptions to cell phone services and deduced the number of mobile phones owned worldwide.

Then Hall unpacked the statistic from Oral-B that yearly global toothbrush sales were about $5 billion. She concluded that, yes, “more people own a mobile phone on the planet than own a toothbrush.”

Jumping on this conclusion, I was all ready to discuss the oral hygiene of mobile phone users without toothbushes—poor oral hygiene leads to rotting teeth, leads to less romantic relationships, leads to less sex and less children. Could mobile phones be a new form of birth control? (Is that so much more far-fetched than many of the dire predictions people are making about the impact of mobile phones?)

But, my friend Lindsay reminded me that not everyone uses a plastic toothbrush to ward off tooth decay. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia, she observed Ethiopians using roots or twigs to clean their teeth. Apparently, I was thinking about this in a culturally biased way. Shame on me.

So I had to find out how the rest of the world takes care of their oral health. Not only do Ethiopians and their West African neighbors brush with and chew twigs to clean their teeth and freshen their breath, but according to researchers these twigs are very effective at fighting bacteria.

Protection from gum disease and other ailments is associated with the use of chewing sticks from the Neem tree in India and twigs called Miswaks that have been used by Muslims for centuries. (You can buy Neem toothpaste and Miswaks on Amazon.) In other words, most people in the world are brushing their teeth.

Now that data is part of our everyday lives and shaping our lives online, we need to be very careful about how we interpret it. Comparing unrelated variables is particularly tricky. Despite Hall’s excellent research, the statement should be: More people own a mobile device than a Western style toothbrush. Putting it that way makes it less intriguing and even more trivial.

For those of you who are thinking about how mobile phones are changing our lives and the potential impact of social marketing, here are a couple of examples of more relevant comparison data:

More than 50% of US adults aged 18-44 have cellphones rather than telephone landlines in their homes.

Americans now spend more time accessing digital media on mobile devices than they do on desktop or laptop computers.

Now these stats are worth thinking about next time you brush your teeth.

Thumbs Up for Blended Learning

Originally posted by Rochelle Diogenes on Acrobatiq.

Blended or hybrid learning has come a long way from its original concept of brick (classroom) and click (e-learning) in 1999. Just using some media with students doesn’t make it a blended approach anymore.

Now, blended learning is usually described as the integration of adaptive courseware yielding learning analytics and face-to-face learning situations such as class lecture, tutoring, or discussion groups to advance learning. Penn State professor Ike Shibley advocates for blended learning:

“When you see how well blended learning fits with established pedagogical paradigms, creating a synergistic blend of what works best in face-to-face and online, the question becomes why wouldn’t you want to at least try it?”

Maybe because we still have to dispel some myths about blended learning:

Myth#1 Blended learning isn’t as good as traditional approaches.

On the contrary, research confirms that blended learning is more effective than on-line learning alone or class learning without technology. A 2010 US Department of Education meta-analysis of 84 studies  (79 with higher education or adult learners) concluded that blended learning is much more effective in achieving learning outcomes than face-to-face instruction alone.

Myth #2 Blended learning requires less faculty.

Not true. The 2010 study cited above found that students using courseware received more “learning time and instructional elements” than those who didn’t use courseware.

When instructors use courseware learning analytics on individual and group progress to inform teaching, they spend less time in front of the classroom, but they spend more time in targeted communication with students.

This aspect of quality blended learning became clear in a recent pilot program with courseware in math at New Jersey’s Essex Community College.

In the one-year pilot, less students passed in the blended course than in the traditional course. Lack of legitimate faculty involvement was cited as one of the major contributing factors to the pilot’s shortcomings. Essex CC thought they could just use graduate students to teach segments of the blended course. According to Douglas Walcerz, a  program consultant, “We underestimated the skill that you would need as a teacher to deliver that content.”

Myth #3 Blended learning creates more ongoing work for instructors.

As happens with most changes, startup takes time. Once instructors take the plunge, however, teaching a blended course is no more time-consuming than teaching a traditional course.

How much time it takes to make the transformation also depends on which approach you take. Instructors who create all of their online materials will do the most work.

That’s why in her insightful post, Blended Learning on the Ground: Advice from College Educators, Jennifer Spohrer advises against starting from scratch. She suggests instructors new to blended learning “stand on the shoulders of giants” and use pretested online products from education technology companies as the foundation for their courses.

Finally, there are added benefits to blended learning (see previous blog, What’s a Seventeen-Year-Old to Do?) including those articulated by learning and development professionals in a 2013 survey:

 …it’s critical to foster lasting learning. It helps ideas stick and creates an air of accountability that is critical to learner success.” “Blended solutions deliver customization and focus on individual needs which traditional methods just can’t match.

Or Would You Rather Be a Fish?*

In a recent Faculty Focus blog, The Power of Mindfulness, Jennifer Lorenzetti points out that the average attention span of humans is estimated at 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000, while that of goldfish is 9 seconds. She follows this with: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in your class could manage to be mentally present for the entire class?” Should she also have asked “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in your class were a goldfish?”

More questions: How do you measure the attention span of a goldfish? What does that have to do with human attention span? What do goldfish use their attention spans for? How can I have any self-esteem if I have a shorter attention span than a fish?

Perhaps the fact that I got stuck on the goldfish intro and didn’t go on to grasp the rest of the article proves that I have a short attention span. Nevertheless, rather than write about mindfulness, I decided to browse for information on the attention span of goldfish.

Almost immediately I discovered that I am not the first to do this. Among those who have, Ray Adams is very skeptical about Google searches and attention span research. He could not confirm the actual attention span of goldfish (or people for that matter). Back to goldfish. Ken McCall did an even more thorough search. He traced the statistic back to the Statistic Brain, but they don’t explain its source either. They define attention span as “the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted.”

A 2014 Ministry of Truth blog also can’t find a source for attention span in goldfish, likening it to another widely touted goldfish characteristic–that goldfish have a 3-second memory span (how long something is remembered). However, that assertion was debunked by scientists in two studies showing that goldfish memories could last for months.

Lorenzetti may have gotten her information from a recent publicized article by Microsoft Canada, Attention Spans, reporting research on human attention span in the digital age. They used the goldfish 9-second statistic.

The researchers found that Canadian attention spans are decreasing, but people are able “to do more with less,” making decisions based on little information. The Microsoft study’s goal was to advise advertisers on digital messaging. Their advice was to be concise, novel, and interactive where appropriate.

The Microsoft researchers didn’t study goldfish or give advice on how to get their attention. Should we just be amazed that we function as well as we do with such short attention spans?

Research will continue on human attention span in the digital age because it affects how we learn and communicate. But is attention span the same no matter what we are involved in? While my attention span for Lorenzetti’s article was short, it was quite substantial for researching goldfish and writing this blog.

So, I’m not convinced that we are losing out to goldfish. Now, if we could measure goldfish attention span while they’re surfing the Internet or playing Grand Theft Auto….

*From Swinging on a Star by Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen

Multiple Choice Questions

A multiple choice question begins with a stem or lead-in that is addressed by a correct response chosen from a list of alternatives. Writing a good multiple choice question that elicits an answer based on knowledge, not guessing or misunderstanding, is an art. For example:

Who was the twentieth president of the United States?

  1. Rutherford B. Hayes
  2. James A. Garfield
  3. Chester A. Arthur
  4. Grover Cleveland

This question tests recall of the twentieth president. The stem is parsimonious, including only the ideas and words necessary to answer the question. The “distractors” are parallel, possible answers–all presidents from around the same time. Compare to this question:

Choosing the first president of the United States was a tremendous responsibility. He would set precedents for subsequent office holders. The Electoral College unanimously elected George Washington who had led the colonies to victory against the British. James Madison, who was married to Dolly, was the fourth president. Who was the twentieth?

  1. James Brown
  2. LeBron James
  3. James Garfield
  4. James Bond

In this question, the stem is overwritten with information you don’t need to answer the question correctly. Irrelevant information may be testing your reading comprehension more than your twentieth president knowledge. Even if you know the correct answer, you may get it wrong because you can’t get through the reading.

The distractors are implausible. If the correct answer is embedded in a group of possibilities that are totally outlandish, you will get the right answer not because you’ve learned it, but because you can use general knowledge to eliminate the others. That’s a bad question.

If written correctly, a multiple choice question can be very effective at proving mastery in Bloom’s elementary cognitive categories of remembering and understanding, and to a lesser extent in the third category, applying (see previous blog Learning Objectives in Higher Education).

According to Cathy Davidson, educator Frederick J. Kelly introduced multiple choice tests in 1914.  They were intended to improve the equality of grading. Teacher bias as well as individual differences such as wealth or poverty would not prevent a student from being graded correctly. Multiple choice questions also made grading less time-consuming for teachers, freeing them to do more instruction. Incorporated in standardized tests, multiple choice questions allowed us to compare student proficiency in different areas of the country. Good goals, right?

Don’t we share these goals today: To evaluate students without bias. To give them equal opportunity to learn despite where they live or learn. To free instructors to have more time to teach and interact with students. So why are multiple choice questions criticized so much?

Davidson says it’s because we try to use multiple choice questions in areas where they don’t work such as

….problem solving, collaborative thinking,  interdisciplinary thinking, complex analysis, the ability to apply learning to other problems, complexity…creativity, imagination, originality…

Demonstration of these types of learning, Bloom’s applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating, requires more than picking out the right answer if there even is a “right” answer. Kelly created multiple choice questions to measure basic skills important to twentieth century American work and citizenship. He admitted that they only tested “lower-order” thinking.

Extending the multiple choice format to measure higher-order thinking results in many flawed questions. Piled one on top of the other in repetitive quizzes or long tests, these ill-conceived items become anxiety-provoking, deadening experiences for students. In this context, they are weak indicators of student learning achievement.

Through digital programming we have the potential to create robust profiles of students showing how they process, retain, and apply information. This gives us the opportunity to approach the challenge of assessing student performance from a fresh perspective, one that may even use testing rarely. Let’s start by identifying the problem we want to solve: How do we make sure that students have learned what they need to learn to be successful in the world?

Now to test your understanding:

Which statement best describes this blog writer’s point of view?

  1. Multiple choice questions are easy to write.
  2. Multiple choice questions test critical thinking.
  3. We should rethink how we assess learning.
  4. We should never use multiple choice questions.

I Say Sitzfleisch, You Say Grit

With all due respect to my education professors in graduate school, most of what I know about learning and teaching came from my mother who never went to college. She told me that the key to success is sitzfleisch. Sitzfleisch is a word that comes from the German, literally, sitting on your ass.

In English, sitzfleisch is the ability to focus on a task whether or not it is engaging for the amount of time needed to master or complete it which is not necessarily the amount of time you want to spend on it. Yes, all of that. According to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, 

Sitzfleisch is sort of the opposite of Ants In Your Pants. The amount of sitzfleisch you’ve got will directly influence how much work you can produce. How long can you stand it, to sit there and push through? Inspiration is beautiful, imagination divine, and we all love soaring dreams. But sitzfleisch? Ass meat? THAT’S how you write your novel. That’s how you compose your symphony. That’s how you paint your masterpiece.

Nowadays, a great deal of research is being done on sitzfleisch only it’s called grit and self-control. Psychologist Angela Duckworth, leads the research in this area. This is how she defines these terms:

Self-control entails aligning actions with any valued goal despite momentarily more-alluring alternatives; grit, in contrast, entails having and working assiduously toward a single challenging superordinate goal through thick and thin, on a timescale of years or even decades.

Duckworth’s work is ongoing. She is proving in study after study that self-control or grit or a combination of both, is more highly correlated to success in school and life than IQ and talent. So, of course, now everyone wants grit and self-control especially for their children. How do we teach them grit?

Duckworth admits she doesn’t know–yet. She says that Carol Dweck’s growth mindset (see previous blog post, Failing is for Everyone) may be one of the ways to get there. In growth mindset, when the process of learning is explained to children, when they are told that success means hard work and pushing through failure, they stay the course.

Being aware of the learning process helps prepare us for its challenges. People who are gritty not only know that they can “push through,” they have strategies to shore up their staying power. Next time you have “ants in your pants” try one of these actions:

  • Look at how much you have accomplished and how much further you have to go. Then, make realistic goals for yourself.
  • Give yourself a moment to think about what pushing through now will get you in the immediate future (time for dinner with your significant other? freedom to kick back and relax?) or in the long run (a condo in the city? worldwide recognition?)
  • Call a friend to complain to for a few minutes. Make sure it’s a friend who empathizes with you and values your succeeding. (Not the friend who says, “I hear ya, screw it, come party with us!”)

The more you practice grit and self-control, the easier it will get, and the more successful you will be.